2023 British Grand Prix
Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from the 2023 British Grand Prix. ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race.
Preface for the F1 midfield in Silverstone
For the first in its history, the Formula 1 circus is in the Isles of Britain to entertain its King.
This week we are in the hallowed fields of Silverstone for the Formula 1 Aramco British Grand Prix 2023. This is the 10th race weekend of the championship.
This legendary race track, once a Royal Air Force bomber station, is adored and loved by drivers and fans alike.
This circuit consists of some of the most iconic track corners ever, which still inspire track designers. The high-speed nature calls for a car to be efficient with its downforce, enough to get around Stowe, Copse, and especially Maggotts and Becketts at high speed while ensuring not to lose a lot of speed down the many straights.
The talk of the paddock this weekend was the newly introduced Pirelli range of tyres; tyres with a new construction aiming towards structural integrity. All the teams have some knowledge of it as they have tested before with them and also Pirelli promised the behavioural characteristics to be the same.
There were no changes to the track layout. Pirelli offered the hardest range of tyres for the weekend. Most of the teams had minor upgrades on their cars.
Let’s take a look at how things unfolded for the midfield teams in a country where 80% of the teams either call it home or a home away from home.
Observations from the F1 midfield in Silverstone
For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected for a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for the qualifying examination. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at comparable race periods.
The British summer offered a near-idle Friday for the teams to test their cars. Throughout the three practice sessions, there were not a lot of complaints about the new tyres but there were a few eye-opening anomalies, one of them was the performance of the two Williams, they displayed a fantastic 1-lap pace to which many across the paddock were worried.
On Saturday, there was a threat of rain and it did arrive at the end of FP3 and continued until the start of Qualifying.
Qualifying battle between the F1 midfield in Silverstone
The track was declared wet by the FIA but it was dry enough for the drivers to set a fast lap on slicks, naturally the times were slower due to lower temperatures (about 18°C lower compared to FP2) and the lack of rubber.
The track was getting grippier by the second and the times started to tumble with every subsequent lap being an improvement, this caused a few drivers to even go for a third set of softs for Q1.
In these conditions, the one who sets a lap last will always have an advantage.
We had very similar conditions to Barcelona where in those conditions McLaren was surprisingly quicker than expected in an un-upgraded car. This weekend in a quicker, upgraded car they even threatened pole position.
To make a fair comparison between the midfield teams, only their quickest time from Q1 is considered as the track continuously improved until the end of Q3.
The bar chart below represents the Q1 times set by the drivers:
- Lando was one of the last drivers to set a lap at the end of Q1 and he reaped the benefits but his lap was good enough for P1. Oscar Piastri couldn’t match his teammate here.
- The promise of the Williams set by them after the practice sessions started to break down as the qualifying progressed.
- Alpine was in the ballpark but significantly slower than Lando.
- It must be said that it’s an improvement for Alfa Romeo to be in the mix.
- Haas, who excel in qualifying were off-colour and to add to their misery, Magnussen had a technical failure and couldn’t take further part in the session.
- Alpha Tauri had a lot of upgrades but they seemed to have not understood them completely and it showed on their on-track performance, they were clearly the slowest team.
At the end of the session, McLaren claimed an incredible P2 and P3 with only the ominous Verstappen ahead in his Red Bull. The McLaren duo were half a second faster than their midfield rivals. Williams was the second-best team among our defined midfield with Albon even piping Alonso in his Aston Martin.
The Race for the F1 midfield in Silverstone
The track was dry for the race starts with a possibility of some light rain in the middle of the event but the clouds held its water.
The choice of tyre across the grid for the start of the race was the medium compound. Hulkenberg and Bottas opted for the Hard tyres with the Alpha Tauri drivers starting on softs.
All eyes were on McLaren to see whether they could hold on to their positions as their race pace was unknown compared to the teams around them. To everyone’s astonishment, they did and also kept Verstappen ahead honest.
The degradation was unexpectedly low and it became soon evident that the race was heading to a one-stop strategy. A safety car period interrupted the race due to an engine failure suffered by Magnussen. This became an opportunity for many drivers to make their only stop but it was untimely for those who had pit prior to this period.
With lower degradation, the majority of the field opted for the soft tyres to finish the race but McLaren opted for the white-walled tyres, this was assumed to be a mistake but it wasn’t. The last stint is not considered for analysis as it was unsettled due to overtakes.
With all that into consideration let’s compare the race pace of our defined midfield in the first stint in the medium tyres:
- McLaren’s development was not restricted to Saturdays, their race pace reflected the impressive progress they have made with their car.
- McLaren seemed to have eclipsed Alpine to be at the forefront.
- Another team who made great progress is Williams. Based on this week’s performance they are very close to Alpine.
- The Alfa Romeo is a couple of steps behind.
- Haas were not plagued by degradation as much but their pace was the slowest among the cars with the same strategy.
- Alpha Tauri went on a different tangent with its strategy making it difficult for a fair comparison. The duo finished last in the classification.
The British weekend was momentous for the ‘Papaya Team’ their pace on Sunday was so impressive that they were arguably the second fastest team on track, the scatter chart below compares the race pace of the McLaren against the defined Top 4 teams:
Conclusion – F1 midfield in Silverstone
The ‘Midfield Tales’ categorises the 2023 Formula 1 grid into two groups, the Midfield, comprising McLaren, Alpine, Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Haas and Williams. The rest are considered the Top 4.
The above definitions are threatened after the conclusion of the British GP. McLaren has built a strong case to graduate to the top teams to make it ‘The Top 5’. I even wrote about how Mclaren’s upgrades in Austria would be a worrying sign for their competitors.
Is it fair to jump the gun and be assured that this week’s results have made a significant change in the pecking order or should everyone be patient and let it simmer until the next race in Hungary?
Will this new trend continue in Budapest? This new development has added some spice to the championship, and the wait can’t be any longer.